After a slow start for 2011 compared to the deluge of excellent records that fell upon Lonesome, Onry and Mean at the beginning of 2010, we've received some fine albums in March. Lucinda Williams, Shawn Phillips, the Hickoids, Candy Golde, and Ian Moore all have new material out and much of it hits hard and lasts. But perhaps the most intriguing album we've received so far in 2011 is Brian Wright's House On Fire.
A native Texan who's been in L.A. the last nine years, Wright's oeuvre is loose, wandering, soulful Americana covered in twang and jangle, a banjo here, horns there, the musical landscape evolving with each new track. The arrangements are Mensa smart and Wright's lyrics stick to your brain and heart like one of Aunt Jemima's pancakes sticks to your ribs.
According to Wright, he spent years playing around Texas, mostly the I-35 corridor circuit between Austin and Dallas in punk and metal bands.
"I didn't really get into the Americana, Texas singer-songwriter kind of thing until I moved out here," Wright told us from his home in Los Angeles. "I had to get out of Texas to dig into what's Texas in me for some reason."
Wright's music will never be mistaken for Townes van Zandt or Guy Clark. But he qualifies as a literate, thoughtful songwriter of their ilk, and the proof is in the musical quality and lyrical depth that reveals itself as each of the 14 tracks of House On Fire unfolds.
Wright played most of the album himself, piecing it together with random studio visits.
"It took me quite a while," he says, "but I play a lot of instruments fairly well even if I'm not a virtuoso on any. And these songs didn't need virtuoso licks. So I'd just go in the studio and think it through, just trying things, and it became very interesting to hear each song develop its unique sound. I really enjoyed experimenting, getting to pick up a banjo and say 'I wonder if this will work right here.' I get bored pretty easy, and this was a way for me to stay interested in what I was doing, just shaping these until they sounded good to me."
Wright isn't sure when he will tour Texas again.
"We just had a baby, our first, so one of my goals is to tour smarter," Wright says. "Right now we're getting ready for Europe, and I owe it to my family to make sure I come home with some money in my hand, not just a bunch of stories about what a great time we had."